The Kerner Report and the mirror it holds up to our contemporary moment is rich framing for artists. Alongside the Kerner Commission’s extensive efforts to describe the summer of 1967, and more broadly the social landscape of race and reality in America, there remains ample room to expand our understanding of what the continuity of life and resistance means in the last 50 years in US cities. The creative work gathered for this conference seeks to fold layers of texture and provocation into our discussions on policy, systems, and social change, with the aim that these works not only re-energize and cause us to feel these issues deeply, but add to the vision of long-term change that is spacious enough for people to thrive.
For the Race & Inequality in America: The Kerner Commission at 50 conference, we commissioned or convened the following work, most of it original or new:
A Kerner@50 Student Art Collaborative used readings and discussions from the Kerner Report to explore the theme of “Why are you afraid?” in workshops facilitated by Evan Bissell over two months. The student artists used that question as an anchoring point to explore multiple themes: the tangled relationship between domestic policing and foreign policy, and how expressions of the mundane reveal the depth of intersectional oppression as well as the humanity of everyday resistance. The collective also created an altar for Black Lives that was tended and added to during the conference. Participating artists were Nikko Duren, Ashley Holloway, Lulu Matute, Dulce María López, Kiana Parker, and el lee Silver.
Artist Damon Davis’s new visual art series, The Riot Report, is a contemporary take on historical materials from the period that disrupt stagnant consumption of the documentation of such histories, splicing in new stories for the people in the photos, and asking us to look again. We also presented All Hands on Deck in the main conference space, a project created by Damon Davis during the 2014 Ferguson uprising, crowns the main conference room, reminding us of the many hands that uplift social movements and hold them together. While referencing the constant refrain of that summer, “Hands up, don’t shoot”, the hands are from the viewpoint of the person holding them up, thereby joining us into this collective effort.
Artist Sadie Barnette contributed work from her project Dear 1968 which traces elements that flew under the Kerner Commission’s radar and yet accelerated out of that moment—COINTELPRO and the government efforts to destroy the revolutionary activities of that time, including the character and livelihood of her father who is featured in the piece.
Evan Bissell contributed three works that combine found signs, photos, and coupons. The works raise questions on the hierarchies of value in cities, as seen through the lens of whiteness and the sharp edges of opportunistic “helping.” One piece looks at the current police budget in Detroit compared to the neighborhood services budget. The other two works look at the daily instability created through the housing crisis.
Poet, playwright, and cultural scribe Chinaka Hodge’s commissioned poem, 10 Good Questions, interrogates the Kerner Report with an insistently human lens, building on a body of work throughout her career that addresses the layered and rippling impact of police violence and structural racism.
Using text organized by Evan Bissell and Sean San José, theater collective Campo Santo’s performance piece, Ordinary Human Beings, brings three texts into a transhistorical conversation; W.E.B Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction, the Kerner Report, and the policy platform from the Movement for Black Lives.
We brought media maker Sabaah Folayan to Berkelely for a special screening of the documentary she co-directed with Davis, Whose Streets? The film is a first-hand account of the Ferguson movement-makers who resoundingly claimed through their grassroots activism that Michael Brown’s life mattered, their lives matter, and that the fullness of Black life matters.